An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Transition Year Programme Evaluation
Hacketstown, County Carlow
Roll Number 70410O
Date of inspection: 28 and 29 April 2008
The Transition Year (TY) programme is a one year programme for students who have completed the Junior Certificate. The TY provides a bridge to enable them to make the transition from the more dependant type of learning associated with the Junior Certificate to the more independent learning environment of the senior cycle. The programme promotes the personal, social, vocational and educational development of students and prepares them for their role as autonomous, participative and responsible members of society. Transition Year fosters academic achievement as students prepare for a Leaving Certificate programme, further study and adult and working life. It encourages the development of a wide range of transferable critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
This report has been written following an evaluation of the TY programme in Coláiste Eoin, Hacketstown. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held meetings with the school principal and deputy principal, the co-ordinator, a core group of teachers and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised extensively with the programme coordinator and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspector provided oral feedback to teachers on lessons observed. The inspector also examined students’ work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachers’ written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal and deputy principal, the programme coordinator and members of the core team at the end of the evaluation period.
Coláiste Eoin has offered the TY programme to its students since 1993. The vast majority of students choose TY and currently two class groups follow the programme. The current TY programme supports the school’s mission of endeavouring “to nurture each student academically, physically, morally, socially and emotionally”. TY is an optional programme in Coláiste Eoin. The uptake for TY is very high with almost all students choosing TY in the past two years.
1.1 Whole school support
Senior management, the TY co-ordinator and the core-team play an active part in fostering a whole-school approach to TY. This is in accordance with Transition Year Programmes, Guidelines for Schools. The co-ordinator reports on TY to the entire staff at staff meetings and minutes of staff meetings provided in the course of the evaluation document the extent of this activity. Minutes also record the support of the board of management for TY. Most teachers are involved in delivering aspects of the TY programme and their skills and talents are well utilised in creating a vibrant programme for their students. This is highly commended. Information relevant to TY is disseminated to the whole school community by means of the school newsletter, notice boards and publicity in the local press regarding noteworthy events and achievements. In this context, it is recommended that consideration be given to the production of a TY newsletter for distribution to the whole school community. The school website could also be developed to highlight TY activities and this would further strengthen the whole-school approach.
School management facilitates continuous professional development (CPD) for TY coordination. The coordinator has attended the TY national conference in 2007 and regular inservice courses in previous years. It would be useful at this stage of development for the school to consider whole staff CPD in writing the TY programme. Reference should be made to the website of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), (www.slss.ie).
Affirmation of student achievement is an integral part of TY in the school. An awards event is held in May with the presentation of a portfolio of certificates and reports. The TY programme enables many committed TY students to grow in confidence and maturity, to achieve better relationships and to progress academically through remediation and consolidation of learning.
Subject-specialist classrooms, specialist rooms and laboratories are well utilised in the delivery of the TY programme with students’ project work in evidence in many instances. The school library, sports hall and computer room are widely used for TY. It was identified in the course of the evaluation that chemical storage in the science area was not in line with best practice and this should be addressed. Information and communication technology (ICT) is utilised in the delivery of various aspects of the programme. However, it is recommended that ICT be further integrated into teaching and learning in TY.
A TY office is made available for co-ordination of the programme and the storage of resources. The TY coordination office is well resourced and is utilised to good effect in the implementation of TY in the school. Various TY records are stored and maintained on a continuous basis. There is good access to school administration support, as necessary. Resource folders examined in the course of the evaluation indicate the extent of planning, organisation and commitment to TY. It is recommended that consideration be given to drawing up an inventory of all TY resources and that this inventory is distributed to all teachers in the school. This may further contribute to the school’s cross-curricular approach to TY.
Enrolment in TY does not entail an additional contribution from parents. The capitation grant is well utilised to finance TY trips and visits related to subjects and modules. It is also used to support in-school activities especially in the areas of sport, personal development and visiting speakers. Students contribute to the book rental scheme and this generates some additional income for activities. The annual TY show generates further income. These funds are spent appropriately across a wide range of activities.
1.3 Student selection
Parents and third-year students are well supported in making an informed programme choice. The parents’ information evening explains the rationale behind TY and provides an outline of the proposed programme. The optional nature of TY is not clearly stated in the school’s enrolment policy and this policy should be reviewed and updated to accurately reflect the school’s practice.
1.4 Home, school and community links
There is ongoing contact with parents over the course of the year and parents are kept well informed through regular communication by letter and through the school journal. Parents have the opportunity to express their views on the programme to the subject teachers and coordinator at the annual parent-teacher meeting. TY programme documentation including a calendar of events is sent to parents. Parents are invited to exhibitions, variety shows and other school events. A parents’ team is involved in the production of the annual show. Consent forms are sent to parents for all activities. The extent of parental involvement in TY is highly commended. Poor attendance of students was recorded in some TY lessons evaluated and this issue should be addressed by both parents and senior management.
Links with the local community are strengthened through many TY activities. These include the variety show production, the fund-raising fashion show, the Gaisce challenge, fun days in national schools and student involvement in competitions such as Agri-Aware. Many of these activities are cross-curricular in nature and therefore promote a key aspect of TY and contribute to the variety in the TY curriculum in the school.
There are a number of TY modules which promote personal development and these include Health Education, Guidance, Drama and Home Economics. Social and personal development is promoted through many activities including fund-raising and voluntary work in the community. As it fulfils key TY objectives, it is recommended that consideration be given to building voluntary community service for all students into the programme in future years.
Work experience is effectively and collaboratively organised by the TY coordinator, guidance counsellor and programme coordinator and supported by the school. Students are generally successful in finding their own placements for work experience, which takes place for two one-week blocks in November and February. Students are well prepared in advance of their work placement with timetabled lessons in Career Guidance. Many useful links have been forged with local businesses through student work experience. There is follow up in that employers are requested to submit a written report on completion of the student placement, and students keep a logbook on their work experience. This experiential learning experience has benefited many students as evidenced in the course of the evaluation and was evident from examination of logbooks and from discussion with students.
1.5 Supports for students
Students are informed at the beginning of the academic year of key expectations for participation in TY. This is commended. It is recommended that consideration be given to the development of a student induction programme for TY. This could take the form of an initial induction day followed by a trip or activity.
There is ongoing consultation between the school’s learning support team and TY teachers and coordinator. Teachers are updated regarding the progress of students in their classes and evidence was provided that teachers design and plan their lessons for mixed-ability teaching with inbuilt differentiated practices. This is highly commended. The small class size together with an emphasis on active learning works well in this context. On occasions, students were supported individually or in small groups as the need arose.
Guidance in TY is well planned and implemented. Students attend career events and mock interviews are organised. A guidance portfolio is maintained where students can develop their curriculum vitae, undertake a career investigation project and keep their work experience reports and records. Workshops are organised in areas such as personal development and substance abuse.
TY students are in mixed-ability classes for most subjects with a clear emphasis on differentiated tasks so that the programme challenges the full spectrum of student abilities through carefully planned and implemented activities. These activities foster a positive and meaningful learning experience for the full range of abilities and self-directed learning is promoted. Gender stereotyping in various subjects is addressed.
The TY programme is effectively coordinated. The current coordinator holds the post of assistant principal and this post carries a time allowance of four hours for TY coordination duties. In this way, a comprehensive list of specified duties for this post has been agreed with school management. Additional tasks are undertaken on occasion. The coordinator has good class contact time with TY students and there is regular communication with the whole school community. Senior management ensures that sufficient resources are put in place to support effective coordination.
The TY core team consists of the coordinator and three TY teachers, two of which are TY class tutors. The core team meets formally on five occasions throughout the year. Minutes of meetings recorded provide evidence of effective forward planning and review. It is commendable that the TY booklet has been reviewed and updated following a recommendation in the whole school evaluation (WSE) report in April 2005. While acknowledging the progress achieved, further development of the TY written programme is required to bring it fully in line with Department guidelines on writing the TY programme. This written programme should include the school’s TY aims, the TY organisational details and the subjects and modules offered. Some subjects should be modified to reflect the relevant course for the current year and there should not be an over-emphasis on Leaving Certificate material, and when this material is included, it should be taught in an innovative way. Each subject department should work collaboratively to develop the TY plan. Collaborative planning will enhance programme content and further support student learning.
Core subjects, half-yearly modules and activities are included in the TY programme. All subjects offered by the school for Leaving Certificate are provided in TY either for the entire year or on a half-yearly basis. First Aid is offered as a ten-week module and students receive a certificate. Drama is offered for a double class period all year and provides students with key skills in communication which are vital to the programme. TY students are taught Information Technology Skills and Computer Applications through Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) Level 4 modules. Wednesday afternoons are now timetabled for activities and other events. This is highly commended and demonstrates the school’s commitment to implement a further WSE recommendation from the 2005 report.
There is breadth to the TY curriculum in that core subjects, some TY modules, activities and calendar events are all included in the programme. Balance in the curriculum would be improved by time readjustment and introduction of alternative material. All students should have the opportunity to experience a broad range of experiences in TY in line with TY guidelines.
There is a focus on subject sampling for Leaving Certificate in the school’s TY programme. There are few additional modules or subjects. Therefore, it is recommended that further modules are introduced with the time allocated to some subjects reduced to make way for new course material. For example a module on study skills would be very useful for students. The current Leaving Certificate curriculum should not determine the entire range of subjects on offer, for example Physics could be offered as part of the TY science programme in order to have all the science subjects present on the TY curriculum. The emphasis should be primarily on key skills development rather than on subject content.
Students learn to be responsible and participative citizens through many commendable activities including work experience. Students’ personal and social needs are developed through participation in many classroom activities including presentations, group and project work.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
A written yearly plan was available for all subjects evaluated. It is commendable that a common template was used for all subjects. Teachers were in the main well prepared for the lessons evaluated. However, further advance planning for some lessons would have enhanced and supported the learning process. Practical materials and handouts were made available to students. The good level of lesson planning led to effective student learning. This is commended.
3.2 Teaching and learning
There was a good rapport and atmosphere of learning in all lessons evaluated. Teacher inputs were frequently short, clear and concise and this approach supported active learning. This is highly commended. Students particularly enjoyed the learning process when it was active and collaborative. Learning objectives were shared with students at the outset of some lessons. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons. Good differentiated teaching practices were conducted in many lessons evaluated. This reinforced learning. Students were given individual attention when needed. The majority of students remained motivated throughout lessons and efforts were made in many lessons to make the student learning experience an innovative one. However, it is recommended that efforts be made in some lessons to improve self-directed learning and particularly to foster an investigative approach to the acquisition of knowledge.
Methodologies were varied and in the main effective. In some instances, material was presented to students in lecture style and the pace was inappropriate for prolonged student participation. Therefore, in such cases, it is recommended that student input is collected, written up on the board and that this input forms a focus for the lesson. This would improve participation and lead to enhanced ownership of lesson material by students. In the main, classrooms were organised in such a way as to promote student learning. However, when students are presenting to the class or rehearsing for a show it is important that the remainder of the class can evaluate the activity. Therefore, it is important that arrangements are made that allow all students to be actively occupied on such occasions. When ICT is used, it should be used with a clear purpose in mind and a focused approach is always necessary. It is imperative that student learning is improved by use of this technology and that learning does not become passive. Therefore, it is highly recommended that worksheets are designed and distributed to focus on student learning and to channel feedback on lesson effectiveness. ICT should not be used in lessons as a stop gap measure and without clear and shared learning outcomes.
Teachers were generally aware of the broad aims of TY and, in the main, teaching practices reflected this. An algebra game was introduced into a Mathematics lesson. Students found this teaching methodology both lively and challenging and this is a good example of a traditional subject matter being taught in an innovative way. Further resources are available for mathematics teaching in TY and it is recommended that practical and cross-curricular applications of Mathematics be introduced into the curriculum. “A Resource for Transition Year Mathematics Teachers” was recently made available to schools following in-service and this book should prove useful in this regard. Reference should be made to the website of the SLSS (www.slss.ie).
Environmental awareness formed the theme of a Geography lesson visited. Varied methodologies, interesting class discussion and probing questions all played a part in reaching very successful learning outcomes. Real life examples were expertly linked to lesson material and this consolidated the student learning process.
Class groups for some subject modules are divided into boys and girls, with those who had in the main experienced the subject at junior cycle forming one class group and those who were taking up the subject for the first time forming the other group. This was the case in Technical Graphics and Home Economics lessons visited. Girls learned various practical skills during the lesson in Technical Graphics evaluated while boys learned about the importance of a balanced diet and food nutritional value in the Home Economics lesson. This well-thought-out lesson encompassed a cross-curricular approach by introducing business skills on profit and loss. This is highly commended.
Social and personal development of students was promoted during a lesson on Speech and Drama. Students were rehearsing a play for an upcoming show and this was followed by practising dance routines. It is very commendable that student confidence was nurtured and enhanced by partaking in these activities. Personal development is a key aspect of TY and leads to enhanced maturity and student development in line with Department TY guidelines.
Assessment of students’ work is ongoing throughout TY. Students sit two formal examinations at Christmas and summer, following which reports are sent home. In addition, two further reports are sent home during the year. All TY reports are customised with comments on attendance, academic achievements and the acquisition of key skills. This is commended. Self-directed learning is promoted in the TY programme in the school. This is particularly evident during project work which forms part of assessment in many subject areas. This is highly commended. In some subjects, assessment is also based on research topics and practical work. Key criteria in school assessment include participation in activities and student motivation and enthusiasm. Certification is awarded with distinction, merit and pass levels.
Further opportunities should be provided for students to assess their own work and a logbook should be maintained to reflect and evaluate for example educational trips and guest speaker presentations. It is recommended that TY portfolio assessment be introduced, whereby students can choose a piece of work for inclusion in the portfolio having completed a task, subject or module. Students are interviewed and make a presentation. A clearly-defined marking scheme determines the student’s final grade.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
The TY programme is evaluated annually by the school. Submissions are invited from senior management, teachers, parents and students. The TY core team evaluate TY at their meetings and subject department meetings review TY courses and recommend change as necessary. Parents provide input at parent-teacher meetings and school information evenings. Students are formally required to evaluate their work experience, however, student evaluation on the entire TY programme requires further attention. In addition, planning for evaluation needs to be strengthened in TY by building review and evaluation into subject and module planning.
Recent changes to the TY programme following internal school evaluation include the introduction of FETAC certification into the school’s TY computer programme, Drama activities are now specified on the timetable and the timing of the changeover of modules has been streamlined. Ongoing and constructive evaluation ensures that a vibrant and relevant TY programme is provided for students and will support the overall quality of the TY programme in the school. The school is commended on endeavouring to facilitate improvement in TY by implementing recommendations from the WSE report of 2005.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
Students interviewed in the course of the evaluation expressed overall satisfaction with TY provision and their personal experiences of the programme. They expressed the opinion that it boosted their confidence and maturity and forged a new mode of relationships with teachers. Students enjoyed the various activities on offer including the variety show, the dance workshop and looked forward to the forthcoming trip to Barcelona. Suggestions from students for programme improvement in TY included enhanced provision for Physical Education and the opportunity to develop further fund-raising activities for TY.
The TY coordinator and senior management reported many beneficial aspects of TY including increased self-confidence of students, development of life skills and improved student-teacher relationships leading to an enhanced atmosphere of learning in the school. The whole school has benefited from TY in many ways including improvement of home, school and community spirit, promotion of the school, and students making a more informed choice for Leaving Certificate. The main difficulties in implementing TY reported include maintaining motivation throughout the year, management of time allocated due to TY activities and creating innovative challenges for students.
Evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation to confirm that the TY programme at Coláiste Eoin provides students with a range of skills and builds their confidence and maturity. The school shows a willingness to advance its TY programme for the advancement of students.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Senior management, the core-team and the TY co-ordinator play an active part in fostering a whole-school approach to TY. The vast majority of teachers are involved in delivering various aspects of the TY programme and their skills and talents are well utilised in creating a vibrant programme.
· Resource folders examined in the course of the evaluation indicate the extent of planning, organisation and commitment to TY.
· Work experience is effectively and collaboratively organised.
· Guidance in TY is well planned and implemented.
· Activities are created which foster a positive and meaningful learning experience for the full range of abilities and self-directed learning is promoted.
· Students’ personal and social needs are developed through participation in many classroom activities.
· There was a good rapport and atmosphere of learning in all lessons evaluated. Teacher inputs were frequently short, clear and concise and this approach supported active learning. Students particularly enjoyed the learning process when it was active and collaborative.
· Assessment of students’ work is ongoing throughout TY. Affirmation of student achievement is an integral part of TY in the school.
· Evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation to confirm that the TY programme at Coláiste Eoin provides students with a range of skills and builds their confidence and maturity.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· Whole staff CPD in writing the TY programme should be facilitated.
· ICT should be further integrated into teaching and learning in TY. When ICT is used in lessons, it should be used with a clear purpose and a focused approach.
· The optional nature of TY should be clearly stated in the school’s enrolment policy and this policy should be reviewed and updated to accurately reflect the school’s practice.
· The school should develop their TY written programme in line with Department guidelines on writing the TY programme.
· Further TY modules should be introduced with the time allocated to some subjects reduced to make way for new course material.
· Consideration should be given to drawing up an inventory of all TY resources.
· Efforts should be made in some lessons to improve self-directed learning, to ensure students are actively engaged and particularly to foster an investigative approach to the acquisition of knowledge.
· Further opportunities should be provided for students to assess their own work and a logbook should be maintained to reflect and evaluate their experiences. TY portfolio assessment should be introduced.
· Student evaluation on the entire TY programme should be developed. Planning for evaluation needs to be strengthened in TY subject and module planning.
Published December 2008